THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND THE HEROES WHO LIVED BEFORE ACHILLES
THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND THE HEROES WHO LIVED BEFORE ACHILLES
Part I. The Voyage to Colchis
I. The Youth Jason
A man in the garb of a slave went up the side of that mountain
that is all covered with forest the Mountain Pelion. He carried
in his arms a little child.
When it was full noon the slave came into a clearing of the
forest so silent that it seemed empty of all life. He laid the
child down on the soft moss and then trembling with the fear of
what might come before him he raised a horn to his lips and blew
three blasts upon it.
Then he waited. The blue sky was above him the great trees stood
away from him and the little child lay at his feet. He waited
and then he heard the thud-thud of great hooves. And then from
between the trees he saw coming toward him the strangest of all
beings one who was half man and half horse; this was Chiron the
Chiron came toward the trembling slave. Greater than any horse
was Chiron taller than any man. The hair of his head flowed back
into his horse's mane his great beard flowed over his horse's
chest; in his man's hand he held a great spear.
Not swiftly he came but the slave could see that in those great
limbs of his there was speed like to the wind's. The slave fell
upon his knees. And with eyes that were full of majesty and
wisdom and limbs that were full of strength and speed the
king-centaur stood above him. "O my lord" the slave said "I
have come before thee sent by Aeson my master who told me where
to come and what blasts to blow upon the horn. And Aeson once
King of Iolcus bade me say to thee that if thou dost remember
his ancient friendship with thee thou wilt perchance take this
child and guard and foster him and as he grows instruct him
with thy wisdom."
"For Aeson's sake I will rear and foster this child" said Chiron
the king-centaur in a deep voice.
The child lying on the moss had been looking up at the
four-footed and two-handed centaur. Now the slave lifted him up
and placed him in the centaur's arms. He said:
"Aeson bade me tell thee that the child's name is Jason. He bade
me give thee this ring with the great ruby in it that thou mayst
give it to the child when he is grown. By this ring with its ruby
and the images engraved on it Aeson may know his son when they
meet after many years and many changes. And another thing Aeson
bade me say to thee O my lord Chiron: not presumptuous is he
but he knows that this child has the regard of the immortal
Goddess Hera the wife of Zeus."
Chiron held Aeson's son in his arms and the little child put
hands into his great beard. Then the centaur said "Let Aeson
know that his son will be reared and fostered by me and that
when they meet again there will be ways by which they will be
known to each other."
Saying this Chiron the centaur holding the child in his arms
went swiftly toward the forest arches; then the slave took up the
horn and went down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to
where a horse was hidden and he mounted and rode first to a
city and then to a village that was beyond the city.
All this was before the famous walls of Troy were built; before
King Priam had come to the throne of his father and while he was
still known not as Priam but as Podarces. And the beginning of
all these happenings was in Iolcus a city in Thessaly.
Cretheus founded the city and had ruled over it in days before
King Priam was born. He left two sons Aeson and Pelias. Aeson
succeeded his father. And because he was a mild and gentle man
the men of war did not love Aeson; they wanted a hard king who
would lead them to conquests.
Pelias the brother of Aeson was ever with the men of war; he
knew what mind they had toward Aeson and he plotted with them to
overthrow his brother. This they did and they brought Pelias to
reign as king in Iolcus.
The people loved Aeson; and they feared Pelias. And because the
people loved him and would be maddened by his slaying Pelias and
the men of war left him living. With his wife Alcimide and his
infant son Aeson went from the city and in a village that was
at a distance from Iolcus he found a hidden house and went to
dwell in it.
Aeson would have lived content there were it not that he was
fearful for Jason his infant son. Jason he knew would grow
into a strong and a bold youth and Pelias the king would be
made uneasy on his account. Pelias would slay the son and
perhaps would slay the father for the son's sake when his memory
would come to be less loved by the people. Aeson thought of such
things in his hidden house and he pondered on ways to have his
son reared away from Iolcus and the dread and the power of King
He had for a friend one who was the wisest of all creatures
Chiron the centaur; Chiron who was half man and half horse;
Chiron who had lived and was yet to live measureless years.
Chiron had fostered Heracles and it might be that he would not
refuse to foster Jason Aeson's child.
Away in the fastnesses of Mount Pelion Chiron dwelt; once Aeson
had been with him and had seen the centaur hunt with his great
bow and his great spears. And Aeson knew a way that one might
come to him; Chiron himself had told him of the way.
Now there was a slave in his house who had been a huntsman and
who knew all the ways of the Mountain Pelion. Aeson talked with
this slave one day and after he had talked with him he sat for a
long time over the cradle of his sleeping infant. And then he
spoke to Alcimide his wife telling her of a parting that made
her weep. That evening the slave came in and Aeson took the child
from the arms of the mournful-eyed mother and put him in the
slave's arms. Also he gave him a horn and a ring with a great
ruby in it and mystic images engraved on its gold. Then when the
ways were dark the slave mounted a horse and with the child in
his arms rode through the city that King Pelias ruled over. In
the morning he came to that mountain that is all covered with
forest the Mountain Pelion. And that evening he came back to the
village and to Aeson's hidden house and he told his master how
he had prospered.
Aeson was content thereafter although he was lonely and although
his wife was lonely in their childlessness. But the time came
when they rejoiced that their child had been sent into an
unreachable place. For messengers from King Pelias came inquiring
about the boy. They told the king's messengers that the child had
strayed off from his nurse and that whether he had been slain by
a wild beast or had been drowned in the swift River Anaurus they
did not know.
The years went by and Pelias felt secure upon the throne he had
taken from his brother. Once he sent to the oracle of the gods to
ask of it whether he should be fearful of anything. What the
oracle answered was this: that King Pelias had but one thing to
dread--the coming of a halfshod man.
The centaur nourished the child Jason on roots and fruits and
honey; for shelter they had a great cave that Chiron had lived in
for numberless years. When he had grown big enough to leave the
cave Chiron would let Jason mount on his back; with the child
holding on to his great mane he would trot gently through the
ways of the forest.
Jason began to know the creatures of the forest and their haunts.
Sometimes Chiron would bring his great bow with him; then Jason
on his back would hold the quiver and would hand him the arrows.
The centaur would let the boy see him kill with a single arrow
the bear the boar or the deer. And soon Jason running beside
him hunted too.
No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood and
youth had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them
more swift of foot than any other of the children of men. He made
them stronger and more ready with the spear and bow. Jason was
trained by Chiron as Heracles just before him had been trained
and as Achilles was to be trained afterward.
Moreover Chiron taught him the knowledge of the stars and the
wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.
Once when they were hunting together Jason saw a form at the
end of an alley of trees--the form of a woman it was--of a woman
who had on her head a shining crown. Never had Jason dreamt of
seeing a form so wondrous. Not very near did he come but he
thought he knew that the woman smiled upon him. She was seen no
more and Jason knew that he had looked upon one of the immortal
All day Jason was filled with thought of her whom he had seen. At
night when the stars were out and when they were seated outside
the cave Chiron and Jason talked together and Chiron told the
youth that she whom he had seen was none other than Hera the
wife of Zeus who had for his father Aeson and for himself an
So Jason grew up upon the mountain and in the forest fastnesses.
When he had reached his full height and had shown himself swift
in the hunt and strong with the spear and bow Chiron told him
that the time had come when he should go back to the world of men
and make his name famous by the doing of great deeds.
And when Chiron told him about his father Aeson--about how he had
been thrust out of the kingship by Pelias his uncle a great
longing came upon Jason to see his father and a fierce anger grew
up in his heart against Pelias.
Then the time came when he bade good-by to Chiron his great
instructor; the time came when he went from the centaur's cave
for the last time and went through the wooded ways and down the
side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to the river to the swift
Anaurus and he found it high in flood. The stones by which one
might cross were almost all washed over; far apart did they seem
in the flood.
Now as he stood there pondering on what he might do there came up
to him an old woman who had on her back a load of brushwood.
"Wouldst thou cross?" asked the old woman. "Wouldst thou cross
and get thee to the city of Iolcus Jason where so many things
Greatly was the youth astonished to hear his name spoken by this
old woman and to hear her give the name of the city he was bound
for. "Wouldst thou cross the Anaurus?" she asked again. "Then
mount upon my back holding on to the wood I carry and I will
bear thee over the river."
Jason smiled. How foolish this old woman was to think that she
could bear him across the flooded river! She came near him and
she took him in her arms and lifted him up on her shoulders.
Then before he knew what she was about to do she had stepped
into the water.